Jonathan Crimmins

Jonathan Crimmins

Nestled between the goblins of Halloween and the turkey of Thanksgiving came a little advertised news story that will have a big impact on a little school. In early November the Harpswell Coastal Academy underwent a mandatory review by the Maine Charter School Commission. After hearing testimony, looking over facilities and reviewing a great deal of data, the Commission saw fit to renew the school’s charter school contract for another five years.

For the students who attend the Academy this means that they have the chance to spend most, if not all, of their academic careers at a school they have chosen. For the parents of the students, myself included, this means that the school that they have chosen for their children is moving on a good path. One paved with new ideas and innovation.

For the people of the State the renewal by the Commission is a demonstration that the Charter School model does work. It is also a reminder that for decades the concept of public education was akin to putting every peg into a square hole. No matter the shape of the student’s mind, everything went into that square hole. Thankfully we have gone beyond that out dated way of thinking by making schools that now accept a square and round peg.

Following a change in state law in 2011, Maine become one of more than 40 states to allow public charter schools. Since allowing charter schools Maine has seen nine such schools created in southern and central Maine. Thereby increasing educational opportunities.

Charter schools have relied upon technology and differing approaches to the educational process. They are also often better able to try to different curriculum options to find the best practice for their students and teachers. Whereas, a traditional school system may be organized in such a way to teach a large number of students, a charter school may offer a nimbler approach to the delivery of educational topics. In this case having an ever-expanding choice puts the student in the driver’s seat of their own education.

The Harpswell Coastal Academy came to life as an alternative to the school districts in the area. Its focus has remained on the delivery of an educational formula for which the area’s shoreline, waterfronts and natural resources act as one part of the classroom. The students spend a great deal of time outside of the school buildings experiencing the world around them. Using those experiences and relating them to math, sciences and humanities helps to bring about an understanding of how the world works. The logistics of the smaller class size and the emphasis on creativity allow this model to flourish.

In surrounding school systems, like Brunswick, the educational formula is seemingly tied to the school. That works for most students in the Brunswick school system. However, having now had a child in both schools, I can say that there for every student who learns well in a traditional school, there may be another student who would excel at a charter school like Harpswell.

For years Brunswick has participated in various educational models for students. The Vocational Region 10 school, the Union Street School and now, the REAL School, offered students a reprieve from the educational system tied to each traditional school and allowed those few students to strike out on a path that made sense for them. HCA has sought to take that type of model to a regional level and has been rewarded by the charter school commission for doing so.

In an era when the options for children and their parents are growing, what with home schooling, private schools, public schools and public charter schools, the emphasis may finally be placed on the outcome of the student and not the school.

Will a public charter school ever be the right answer for every student? Of course not, but the lives of area youth and their families are enhanced when they have the ability to make an informed choice of competing educational opportunities. With the renewal of the charter school contract for the Harpswell Coastal Academy the families of this area will certainly have that choice for years to come.

That’s my two cents…

Jonathan Crimmins can be reached at j_ [email protected]

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